6.4 A Bicycle Made For Three


In which our trio ‘get it continental style’…

ANDREW: Have we reached another milestone? Does this qualify as our first truly iconic episode of Last of the Summer Wine? I think that clip from the climax of this episode, in which our trio tumbles headfirst over the handlebars of their bicycles, is probably one of the most often used to represent the series in documentaries or highlights packages.

BOB: Yes, that clip has come to embody the “three silly old sods plummeting downhill” public perception of the series, hasn’t it? Whenever I mention our ongoing quest to non-Summer Wine fans, they always make reference to this kind of escapade. Which is a shame, as the absolute bedrock of the series for me is the dialogue and characterisation. All the rest is largely window dressing. Here you go, from the opening sequence…

COMPO: I tried for a reserved occupation.

FOGGY: There was no-one more reserved about taking an occupation than you.

A laugh-out loud joke with a wealth of information about both characters attitudes, backgrounds and personalities, all within the space of two lines. Perfect. 

ANDREW: There’s a lot of location work in this episode and it’s all beautifully shot, but doesn’t the transfer look manky? Doctor Who fans have been spoilt rotten with the amount of care and attention that’s been exercised in restoring that series’ many episodes, and the thought that the original film elements of many of these Summer Wine episodes could just be lying in a vault gathering dust is almost too much to take.

BOB: This probably makes me some sort of heathen, but I rather like a bit of grit and grain on vintage 16mm film sequences. Gives them a bit of character and period charm. I can spend hours watching a trapped hair fizzing away in the corner of the screen.

ANDREW: I’d have to check the novel again to see whether it originates there, but the gag with the trio careening down a hill upon one bicycle is used again, almost verbatim, in the Getting Sam Home Christmas special a few years later.

BOB: Spoilers!

ANDREW: And who would have thought that a thirty-year-old episode of Last of the Summer Wine would become so topical in hindsight. Not too long ago, a video in which former American sitcom star Kirk Cameron and Christian minister Ray Comfort displayed support for the “Banana Theory” went viral. The Banana Theory, in case you’re wondering, posits almost exactly what Clegg states in this episode, “If there’s no guiding hand behind the universe, how come bananas are just the right shape for your mouth.” Have a look!

I wonder if they were fans (Joke)? Within the context of Summer Wine, Clegg gets away with it, but as an argument for intelligent design it just doesn’t hold up at all.  Who would have thought that the battle of Darwinism and fundamental Christianity would intrude upon our little oasis of tranquillity?

BOB: Wait until we get round to Open All Hours. There’s a full episode in which Granville and Mrs Featherstone discuss the implications of Sartre’s theory of Bad Faith and the direct contradictions it posits to Freud’s theories of the unconscious.

ANDREW: Another couple of names for the database; Lily Matthews – With his scruffy khakis, Compo never had a chance with this RAF mad girl. Lily was ugly, but only from the front. Then we get Mildred, a loud welder, apparently.

BOB: And then we meet a new character – Junk-shop owner Percy Westerfield, or ‘Dirk’ as he now insists on being called. As soon as he appeared, I shouted ‘JOE MELIA!’ with unseemly abandon, making both dogs scatter in panic across the front room. A fine character actor, Joe Melia… beloved of us science fiction geeks for playing Mr Prosser in The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but he’s also the delightfully amoral journalist Ron Rust in A Very Peculiar Practice, the viewing of which – like archery practice on a Sunday – should be on the statute books as a compulsory weekly activity for all adults.

Good to see Dirk wearing a classic comedy slogan T-Shirt as well… “I Sold Kirk Douglas The Dimple” is emblazoned unashamedly across his chest. The comedy T-shirt is a quintessentially 1980s phenomenon, and a couple of years before this episode aired you could barely move in Britain’s High Streets for “I Shot JR” T-shirts hanging from shop windows. And wobbling beer guts. The practice still exists in the minds of weird 50-year-old men who proudly strut around in public wearing hilarious “If Found, Please Return To The Pub” T-shirts, but the rest of the world – thankfully – seems to have moved on.

ANDREW: I actually quite like Dirk nee Percy as a character and wonder whether we’re going to see him again?

BOB: He’s certainly a great “deluded” character in the classic sitcom style. Despite being the owner of a rather run-down second-hand shop, he still considers himself to be a future millionaire, without ever stooping to being “your flash-in-the-pan overnight whizzkid”. Anyway, he allows Compo, Clegg and Foggy to rummage for spare bike parts in the shed, in order to construct a bicycle each to continue their two-wheeled adventures…

ANDREW: One thing that really strikes me about this episode, particularly the scenes where the trio are putting their bicycles together, is just how much fun they’re having. There’s little in the way of moaning or complaining, and just look at the glee Foggy and Compo exhibit when gently ribbing one another for their efforts. It’s a little bit special and reminds us why these characters continue to knock about, despite their many setbacks and fallings-out.

BOB: Roy Clarke’s very good at that. Amidst all the friction between Summer Wine’s main characters, there’s always something that reminds you that – beneath it all – they’re actually very fond of each other. It can be a single line, or even just a warm glance between the barbs, but it’s always there. Very important.

ANDREW: In a move that I expect will upset you, Sid’s Café has undergone some extensive renovations, doing away, as Clegg puts it, with “the homely air of neglect.” This doesn’t bother me at all, however, as the set now looks exactly as it did when I was growing up with the show. I think this was my first burst of nostalgia. I wonder if this move to brighten the place up is part of Alan J.W. Bell’s influence on the series.

BOB: Ha! I’ve written exactly that in my notes. “They’ve redecorated – I don’t like it”. I suspect that, if we watched one of the Blamire episodes again, we’d be surprised at how filthy and run-down all of the sets and locations look in comparison to this brave new era. There was a real grimy, soot-stained bleakness to life in 1973 that was beginning to fade from sight in the spruced-up, computerized 1980s.

I’m glad you’ve got a nostalgia blast, though! You’ll be going all fuzzy on me from here.

Anyway, nice to see Nora and especially Wally making much more regular appearances in this series. Some funny lines for Nora in particular in this scene, including her musings on men. “I blame television,” she grumbles. “They see all these funny ideas. People enjoying themselves…”

ANDREW: Wally in whites almost doesn’t look like Wally.

BOB: I’m sorry, but you could dress Wally Batty up as Carmen Miranda and he’d still look like Wally Batty. There’s no getting away from THAT FACE.

ANDREW: If Gladwin had stuck around for a few more years I’m sure Clarke would have had him dressed up as Carmen Miranda.

One thing this episode does– probably better than any episode so far – is to skilfully blend Clarke’s verbal humour with the slapstick elements of the series. I didn’t feel short-changed on either front and the episode’s comic climax, in which our trio tumble head first from Foggy’s new take on the tandem bicycle, is rooted within the series logic. Unlike Wally’s pigeon-shaped hang glider, I can totally believe that this is something Foggy would come up with and have the ability to construct.

BOB: Yes, Foggy joins three bikes together by the handlebars to make a treble-seated monster, and it’s absolutely believable. The scenes in which they road-toast the bike look lovely as well… freewheeling fun on a bright summers day.

ANDREW: I also really enjoyed the scene with our trio attempted to eat “continental style” outside the café. Ronnie Hazlehurst’s Parisian take on the series’ theme tune is beautiful and the action is taken straight out of a Laurel and Hardy or Chaplin short from the silent era.

BOB: Absolutely! “They’re going to get it continental style”, deadpans Jane Freeman, refusing to allow our scruffy trio to slurp their tea in her newly-refurbished café. It’s such a well-worn 70s double entendre that I heartily applaud Roy Clarke for having the audacity to use it! There’s a whole scene in Are You Being Served – The Movie in which Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe debate whether they’d prefer it “English or continental style”. Their breakfast, of course. What else?

And you say Chaplin, I’ve written Jacques Tati in my notes! Same difference. Yeah, a lovely little homage to silent cinema, with our heroes’ attempts to eat in the yard being disturbed by unruly schoolkids, careless car-washers and funeral processions alike, all with barely a word spoken. All, as you say, accompanied by Ronnie Hazlehurst’s beautifully Gallic-sounding accordion music. We should probably talk more about Ronnie Hazelhurst on this blog sometime… he’s the unsung hero of Summer Wine. Didn’t he compose completely unique scores for every episode? I can’t think of many other TV shows in which the incidental music is such an integral and recognisable part of the atmosphere. 

ANDREW: All in all, probably one of my favourites so far.

BOB: Me too. Series 6 has been a joy so far, and I can absolutely understand why this was the year in which the show really began to elevate to national treasure status.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jakob1978 on April 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    The scenario of them going downhill wasn’t just reused in Getting Sam Home, they actually used the exact same audio clip from this episode, played over new footage. (Later on in the first Seymour series the reverse happens, there’s two episodes with the same scene, just with different dialogue played over it :D)

    I really love this episode, I think it has just the right mix of slapstick, character comedy and wistful nostalgia. I love Clegg sharing in first Foggy then Compo’s teasing at each other.

    Reply

  2. Thanks Jakob, that’s fascinating stuff. And yeah – this is easily one of my favourite episodes of recent series.

    Reply

  3. Proper lovely, that. One of the things about LotSW from this period is the fact that Clarke hasn’t drifted into formula so much. In much later years, you’d have that sharp divide between the women speaking amongst themselves (with tart, pithy one-liners about the incompetence of men), and the men doing something simliar, with the twain meeting not all that often.

    What I think is great about this era is that nailing of the ritual of male bonding. The article mentions it tangentially, but I think it’s nice to think about it a bit more. Lots of groups of male friends do have this peculiar practice, however close they may be, of spending most of their time trying to wind each other up or doing some fairly harmless point-scoring off each other. In fact, the amount of “needle” runs roughly in inverse proportion to the closeness of the friendship. In the modern post-lad era this has become the rather tiresome phenomenon of “banter”. Here, it’s just three old friends shooting the breeze. I know which I prefer.

    And, once again, Sid gets the show’s best line: “It’s all right for you. She just throws you out. Me, she keeps!” Fabulous.

    Reply

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